University Senate Representatives' Meeting with KBOR


Dear Colleagues:

 

We write to you in our capacity as members of the Faculty Senate Executive Committee (FacEx). Last week, we, as well as representatives from the Staff and Student Senates, met with the Kansas Board of Regents (KBOR) for an hour and a half to discuss the future of KU. We write today to share those concerns with you, as well as give some sense of KBOR’s response to the issues we raised. 

Members of Staff Senate primarily addressed issues of staff retention and the inability to hire in certain positions because of low wages. They called for a comparative study of wage rates at KU vis-a-vis local public and private employers. The regents seemed sympathetic to this problem and amenable to this request. 

Student senators had a set of very specific requests for KBOR, many of which are either within the powers of the regents themselves or are issues about which they will have some input. These included raising student fees to pay for services at KU, including greater access for more students to Watkins and Counseling and Psychological Services; raising the minimum wage at KU for student workers; not raising the health insurance premiums for grad students, particularly international students; giving greater priority to housing for queer, trans, and nonbinary students, perhaps in a dormitory that will replace the slated-for-demolition Oliver Hall. The regents did not make commitments one way or the other on these requests, though some regents seemed agreeable to a town hall meeting with students sometime soon. 

Faculty concerns were, in some ways, slightly more existential. Senators described, first and foremost, a campus climate low in morale. Combined with salaries that are lower than our AAU peers, this has led to faculty securing or seeking employment elsewhere. Senators also noted the loss of numerous faculty of color and the corresponding losses in campus diversity. We despair the decrease in diversity for many reasons, but particularly so when we are attempting to retain students of color. 

In light of the ongoing process of discontinuing academic programs at KU, we emphasized to the regents that there is more than one way to count the vitality and contributions of a program. Student credit hours that fulfill KU Core goals or that serve other local or national constituencies like the US military are as valuable to KU as are the number of majors in any given department. Small, niche programs can still provide outsized impact and service to Kansans that isn’t measured using counts of student credit hours or graduates. 

As the Provost seeks to implement a faculty workload policy for KU at the behest of KBOR itself, numerous senators emphasized that this policy seemed not to include attention to the research that we do, which constitutes a sizable chunk of our jobs. Nor can the measurement of student credit hours take into account the mentoring and advising that consumes much of faculty members’ time and adds so much value to the student experience. The regents were amenable to these arguments and recognized that KU is an R1 school that differs in some significant ways from many of the other regents institutions. 

Finally, one senator asked if the regents might be able to work with KU Endowment Association (KUEA) to implement a policy whereby even restricted or targeted gifts to KUEA are subject to a certain percentage being taken off the top to be added to a general fund that could be dedicated to everyday expenses. Stanford University, with one of the nation’s largest endowments, currently uses such a system. 

Regents emphasized to us that they were dedicated to advancing the success of KU, one going so far as to say that their positions make them “statutorily obligated” to advocate on behalf of higher education. At the same time, they noted that it is sometimes difficult to translate the accomplishments of research in ways that are persuasive to legislators and urged us to do all that we can to make the connections between our research and benefits to the state of Kansas and its residents as clear as possible. In order to help them advocate for us, they also urged us (as private citizens) to advocate for higher education funding with our elected representatives, including the governor, who sets the budget blueprint in her annual budget request. As they pointed out, KBOR has recently requested of the legislature a 1.9 percent increase in the allotment to colleges and universities, amounting to more than 100 million dollars. 

We believe the meeting was productive, and we look forward to working with KBOR in the future for the benefit of the students, staff, and faculty of KU. If you have comments or questions, as always, please feel free to contact us at govern@ku.edu

 

Respectfully, 

The Faculty Senate Executive Committee